Traffic counts across the Foley Beach Express are growing yearly, with 2018 on pace to set record highs for both vehicles and revenue at the bridge in Orange Beach.
Through five months of the year, 1.7 million vehicles have paid the toll over the Intracoastal Waterway and the city has pocketed more than $500,000.
“The city loaned the bridge company $12 million years ago in exchange for this per-car payment,” City Administrator Ken Grimes said.
From 2004 until 2013 the city loaned $1.2 million annually to the bridge company. In return it received a per-vehicle fee which is adjusted according to traffic volume. The only year the city made its money back was 2006 when it collected just over the $1.2 million from tolls. The city averaged about $600,000 per year in losses.
After the last of 10 loans in 2013, Orange Beach began in 2014 collecting a 30-cent per vehicle toll which will last through the year 2034. Orange Beach has collected just over $10.5 million through May of this year.
Averaging out the numbers based on the first five months of 2018 would project to a new high of $1.23 million and traffic would be projected to top four million vehicles for the first time ever.
“The bridge isn’t required to expand until it reaches a volume of six million vehicles a year, so we have a ways to go to reach that,” Grimes said.
Through the first five months of 2017 the vehicle count was 1.3 million and the city had collected about $450,000.
Traffic concerns and continued expansion of subdivisions and condo developments in both Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are at the center of a debate over the state building a competing bridge a mile and a half west of the Foley Beach Express.
The Baldwin County Bridge Co., a subsidiary of American Roads, is involved in that project as a strip of right-of-way it owns has been condemned by the state for use in the new project. The company is contesting the less than $10,000 offer the state made to cross the two-foot-wide strip along the Foley Beach Express owned by the company.
The bridge company previously challenged the entire road and bridge project from County Road 8 to a proposed bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway near the Gulf Shores airport. During that procedure, Alabama Department of Transportation Director John Cooper testified the state had not conducted any traffic studies or held public forums about the project before beginning condemnation proceedings on land along the route.
“In our view, the admissions ALDOT personnel made in the probate proceeding show that the taking is unjustified and contrary to the public interest,” American Roads CEO Neal Belitsky said. “American Roads/BCBC, therefore, will continue to defend itself against the government’s attempt to take its property without adhering to fundamental constitutional due process protections, including pursuing a new trial in Alabama circuit court after full discovery of everyone involved.”